”Why Didn’t You Keep Your Kids Home From School if They’re Sick?”: Addressing the Bigger Problem

Between the two of them, my kids have had a total of over thirty missed school days since the school year began in September.

Collectively, an entire month of missed school.

Our family has just surpassed one full month of us all being sick. We have been passing around what seems like the same cold or flu, in its various mutations, since the beginning of January. This hasn’t meant that all of us were sick at all times. Rather, it’s been a “passing of the hot potato,” where three of us will be sick while one is feeling better and then someone switches teams.

Because we have elementary school aged children, we understand the veritable Petri dish that classrooms containing such small children can be. We’ve done our best to keep the kids home as much as possible. We have to strike a balance between honoring the school’s absence policies (did you know you can get a truancy letter sent home for having too many excused absences?!), while also being considerate of the other children in the class.

My husband and I both have the privilege of working from home. He works in high-tech and is fortunate to have an excellent compensation package and a fair amount of personal autonomy during his working hours. I am self-employed. When the kids are home sick, the only inconvenience we suffer is that I have to rearrange my work priorities, and my husband has to (chooses to) help me when he can.

We are fortunate to not have to worry about losing our jobs if we have to miss work for our sick kids. We are blessed that my husband earns a salary instead of hourly pay, so we are not dependent on every single billable working hour to pay our bills. For that reason, we have the privilege of being considerate toward other families when it comes to sending our kids to school.

We can keep our kids home when they have the sniffles that could be allergies or could be something else, so why not?

I believe that all parents, if they could, want to be considerate in this way. No parent wants to send their kids to school as a walking hotbed of germs. We all know the misery of the winter months, with our children staying sick until the summer heat burns it all away.

The problem is the difference between want and can.

I believe that families like mine are the exception, a rarity. It is far more common for families to live from paycheck to paycheck, rely on a single income, or depend on every billable hour because they are paid an hourly rate and can’t pay their bills if they miss even one day of work.

Some families, plain and simple, do not have the luxury of keeping their kids home “just in case” or “out of an abundance of caution.” These families have memorized the school’s Sick Policies—knowing which symptoms mandate that the kids stay home, and which ones will be given a pass. They don’t have the luxury of keeping their children home for boogery noses or sore throats that are probably still contagious but are “allowable” under the school’s policies.

And here’s where capitalism shows us just what a choke-hold it has us in:

We will not hesitate to ask these parents why they don’t keep their kids home from school when they’re sick …

But don’t think to ask corporations why they aren’t providing a living wage, reasonable health care, and accommodations for family leave.

Corporate greed puts parents in these horrible predicaments, and we blame parents for having to make hard decisions.

It’s unfair. It’s unjust. And it’s not right.

Providing a living wage and reasonable family leave accommodations would enhance both the well-being of employees and the overall productivity of corporations. When parents are forced to send their sick children to school because they cannot afford to take time off work, it not only puts the health of the children at risk but also contributes to the spread of illness within the community. This often leads to increased absenteeism among both parents and children, as sickness spreads throughout schools and workplaces. By offering a living wage and flexible family leave policies, corporations could actually empower parents to prioritize their family’s health without sacrificing their financial stability.

Furthermore, investing in employee well-being fosters a more positive work environment and enhances employee morale and loyalty. When workers feel supported by their employers, they are more likely to demonstrate greater commitment and productivity. And by reducing the spread of illness in the workplace, corporations can mitigate the negative impact of absenteeism on productivity and overall performance. Ultimately, providing a living wage and reasonable family leave accommodations not only benefits individual employees and their families but also contributes to the long-term success and sustainability of corporations.

So really, what is the reason for not doing it?

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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